Speaking of Optimism

Published: October 12, 2012

By Jim Lichtman
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“There are no easy answers’,” Ronald Reagan used to say, “but there are simple answers. We must have the courage to do what we know is morally right.”

There is moral right and moral righteousness. And there are far too many in Congress who act from the later and not enough of the former who are willing to stand up to them.

Journalist Lou Canon wrote that Reagan “tempered conviction with compromise.” And it was that pragmatism that always kept him focused and optimistic. But what would Reagan say about the current crop of Republicans who are long on singing his praises but fall short of his actions?

While we don’t have the Gipper around for those answers, here’s what former Reagan budget director David Stockman said (Aug. 13, 2012) about vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s budget proposals: “Mr. Ryan’s sonorous campaign rhetoric about shrinking Big Government and giving tax cuts to ‘job creators’ (read: the top 2 percent) will do nothing to reverse the nation’s economic decline and arrest its fiscal collapse.

“Mr. Ryan showed his conservative mettle,” Stockman adds, “in 2008 when he folded like a lawn chair on the auto bailout and the Wall Street bailout. But the greater hypocrisy is his phony ‘plan’ to solve the entitlements mess by deferring changes to social insurance by at least a decade.”

“Ronald Reagan was a master at reaching across the aisle for solutions to our nation’s problems,” former Chief-of-Staff James Baker said speaking last year at the Reagan Library. “We must re-learn that as citizens of a democracy, it is okay to voice our disagreements, but at the end of the day we have to come together to solve problems rather than cynically rely on them for partisan advantage.

“Today,” Baker said, “we again face stormy seas that are not dissimilar from those of 30 years ago. Once more the alarmists are sounding their apocalyptic cries. Well, 30 years ago, Ronald Reagan rejected predictions of America’s decline. ‘Not on my watch,’ he responded. And we must likewise reject the gloomy forecast today.”

In a commentary on the occasion of Reagan’s 100th birthday, President Obama wrote that “…Reagan was a believer… he recognized that each of us has the power — as individuals and as a nation — to shape our own destiny… He understood that while we may see the world differently and hold different opinions about what’s best for our country, the fact remains that we are all patriots who put the welfare of our fellow citizens above all else.”

“It was a philosophy,” Obama says, “that President Reagan took to heart — famously saying that he and Democratic Speaker Tip O’Neill, with whom he sparred constantly, could be friends after 6 o’clock. It’s what led him to compromise on issues as contentious as Social Security and tax cuts. And it’s what allowed him to work with leaders of all political persuasions to advance the cause of freedom, democracy and security around the world, including reducing nuclear weapons and imagining a world, ultimately, without nuclear weapons.

“But perhaps even more important than any single accomplishment was the sense of confidence and optimism President Reagan never failed to communicate to the American people. It was a spirit that transcended the most heated political arguments, and one that called each of us to believe that tomorrow will be better than today.”

Given the current climate of political polarization and cynicism, it can be difficult to maintain the kind of optimism Reagan inspired. However, we can do better if we have a willingness to believe, as Reagan said, “…America’s best days are yet to come. Our proudest moments are yet to be. Our most glorious achievements are just ahead.”

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